Today, a belated gift for the surveillance state: the dismissal of ACLU v Clapper by a federal district judge, declaring the NSA’s bulk communications records collection to be “legal”. The grounds cited for this ruling speak to the depths of the problem with any expectation of meaningful “reform” or “restraint” from the government, showing that the only Check is on us pawns:
-First off, judge Will Pauley did as any propagandist would do and waved the bloody flag of 9/11 several times, putting the lie to the concept of the impartial judiciary we are taught to assume. He then made a connection between that clearly successful attack & attacks later thwarted that has long been proven false:
“This blunt tool only works because it collects everything,” Pauley wrote. “Technology allowed al Qaeda to operate decentralized and plot international terrorist attacks remotely. The bulk telephony metadata collection program represents the government’s counter-punch.”
To date, there has been no aborted attack the stopping of which could be traced to the bulk collection program. None. It’s either been bystanders noticing or the feds creating the plot themselves to entrap people they later arrest, doing everything short of handing the hapless wannabes actual explosives. Oh, and there was also that attack in Boston that actually occurred…
Portrayed as all that stand between Us and Them, pervasive surveillance seeks to be accepted as the unquestionable price of everyday life. By throwing up the specter of 9/11, Pauley casts resistance to such as not merely a disagreement, but as face value insanity, suicidal even. This despite the question being not “Is It Useful”, but whether or not it violates the Constitution.
-About the broad scope of information the program takes in, Pauley’s reply is “yeah, but…”:
While acknowledging that the program “vacuums up information about virtually every telephone call to, from, or within the United States,” he said its constitutionality “is ultimately a question of reasonableness.”
Pauley added that he found no evidence that the government had used bulk telephony metadata for any reason other than to investigate and disrupt terrorist attacks.
There are reports of multiple advocacy groups being stymied by this program, the feeding of NSA data to domestic law enforcement (primarily to aid the War on Drugs…), and even NSA employees spying on ex-lovers for the hell of it. Will Pauley must not get out much.
-Lastly, he approvingly cites Smith v. Maryland from 1979 (read: before the internet or smartphones even existed), which said that since phone companies had your phone records there was no expectation of privacy. Even back then there should’ve been some semblance of thought at the implication there: for the most part, these companies are how people have come to communicate across distances. Telephone companies, tech companies, & ISPs serve as gatekeepers to much of the world, and require some data simply to accept the contract & let your connections onboard. If this is combined with the idea that information once given for purpose of communication itself is freely available to the government for any reason they can make up, then you do not own yourself if you are on the internet or the phone for any reason. The people of the digital age are effectively being slut-shamed by the government* — “you shouldn’t have been so open with your data!”, when the choice was for it to be shared only for the purpose of connection, not for anything else. Taken to its logical conclusion, what was thought of as a sphere of liberty becomes a cage, as any expression of dissent, use of anonymity or combination of both is grounds for your placement under the microscope of the government.
Don’t like it? I guess we all retreat to the trees & caves then, so much for modernity…
No. Either this wicked idea of facilitation of access by our current range of providers being equivalent to total submission to state surveillance must be strangled to its much deserved death, or we must seek to build another way. A way that keeps our data away from the agents of the state, that does not allow treatment of all as suspects, that does not equate access with submission.
* – by the way, among the tepid “reforms” being considered is making formal the holding of metadata by a third party. While the holding of data by a 3rd party is being claimed as allowing the access of the data by anybody. Don’t be fooled.